Thursday, May 17, 2018

Using Grass and Hay

We have a lot of grass, we are trying new ways to use it. Mulching for weed control is one thing we are finding it good for. We use a lot of the old round bales for this and now, with the zero turn and the bagger we are trying other things.

Last spring Ralph planted potatoes on a bed of chopped hay laid in the bottom of the trench he dug to plant the potatoes. It worked beautifully and made it so nice to dig the potatoes. They were clean and smooth and we knew the idea worked well. We are doing it again this year with old hay and dried grass clippings run through the zero turn.

This years new project, Fingerling Potatoes. The seed potatoes were laid on a bed of dried and chopped grass, then covered over until they needed to be hilled.

The Garlic is doing well, it has been mulched with old hay run under the zero turn. That initial layer of mulch has kept weeds down and Ralph is renewing it with new mulch. This mulch is hay, we mowed it with the zero turn but did not bag it but let it cure and dry. Then Ralph ran over it with the bagger and emptied the bags into the trailer, it was perfect and nice to work with. He got a really good load of it and re mulched around the garlic after fertilizing with Holly Tone.

The muck tubs are a valued tool as well, they do everything, from chilling chickens when we butcher, filling in as water troughs in paddocks and of course carrying things in bulk. Ralph filled the tub with the hay mulch and carried it to the garlic. We cannot get to this part of the east garden with the trailer.

Almost done. The mulch has stopped weeds and is adding organic material to the garden. Because it is immature hay when we cut it, it will not have any viable seed to cause problems. It is fine and very nice to work with.

It is going to be a good way to use our extra grass. It never leaves the farm and contributes to the soil where we need it to. With the cow manure we will have for fall the garden soil will steadily improve. Each  year we see a difference and it is one reason we love the challenge of building our food supply. It is more than just harvesting the crops. It is building the future.

God Bless and keep you.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Spring Progress and what we are learning about grass.

Imagine a dry pasture, dotted with large clumps and humps of grass. Bunchgrass, the grass I grew up with.

A grass that still amazes me with its unique abilities. It grows incredibly fast in the spring, sending up leaves and seed heads in about 45 days in late June. The leaves grow tall, then drop back to the ground forming a tent-like bunch. That gives it the name. Then as the hot dry summer goes on the grass naturally cures, storing nutrition sheltered from the elements. It is known as a hard grass.
By fall it is a sere brown, it looks dead and is ready for winter.  This is where bunch grass excels. My father took me out on a snowy day when I was 12, I still remember trudging through deep snow and stumbling on the bunch grass clumps buried by the white blanket.
We stopped and he took his boot and scraped away snow from one of the clumps. Calling me over he showed me one of the miracles of bunch grass. He parted the heavy mat of dry grass and there, hidden and protected from the winter were green shoots of new grass. He explained that’s why the big bunch grass pasture was not grazed in the spring or summer. Now our cattle could go out and graze good pasture in this snowy weather. Like the Buffalo did before farming broke up and destroyed the vast acres of bunch grass range that used to cover the land where we lived. This grass is still my favorite grass but now it is far from my life and I am learning to deal with ‘soft’ grass.

This region we live in is zone 6.5, the climate is mellow. 189 days frost free. There is always grass growing. The substrata of our pastures is clover, with several fescues and a smattering of orchard grass. It is old hay land for the most part. It had not been grazed or seriously hayed for at least 9 years. We are going to use it more for grazing than hay, for us that is the best option. We do plan on some hay though, we need fine, good quality hay for young stock. Plus we do want to see how serious haying with the drum mower and Molon rake goes. Haying  a field also helps clean out weeds and keeps the field cleaner.
Paddock 1....May 1st

We need to reseed and amend some of the land and here are some grasses and legumes we are looking into.

Bermudagrass [Cynodon dactylon  is a warm-season perennial that is widely grown in the southern United States for pasture and hay. Like other warm-season plants, bermudagrass makes its best growth at 80-90°F. Growth is very slow when temperatures are below 60°F and tends to decline above 95°F. Climatically, Kentucky lies within a transition zone where extreme temperatures and rainfall changes occur within and between seasons. Cool-season grasses are well adapted to this zone, but forage productivity and quality typically reach seasonal lows during the mid-summer months. In most years, bermudagrass growth starts in late April and continues rapidly until mid-September when cooling temperatures limit growth. Thus, bermudagrass is very productive  during June, July, and August when cool-season grasses, such as tall fescue, orchardgrass, timothy, and Kentucky bluegrass, grow more slowly.

Orchard Grass [one of my favorite hay Grasses]

Orchard Grass is an extremely versatile variety. This low maintenance groundcover is perfect for livestock grazing and can be used for pasture, hay or silage. It is considered one of the best forage grasses and is also used by birds for nesting, brood rearing, escape and winter cover. Orchard Grass is also a great solution for erosion control and can be planted as a cover crop.

 Timothy hay (Phleum pretense) is a common animal fodder which is found in all states. What is Timothy grass? It is a cool season perennial grass with rapid growth. The plant gets its name from Timothy Hanson, who promoted the grass in the 1700s as a pasture grass. The grass is native to Europe, temperate Asia and North Africa. The plant is adapted to numerous climates and performs well in even cold, northern regions. Timothy grass care is minimal in most regions. I like Timothy but Our "Hay Guy' says it is difficult to get started in this area, once its established its good but its can be temperamental.

Red Clover

Red clover is a short-lived perennial legume, which is well adapted to the soil and climate of the Midwest. Clover is easy to establish in cool season grass pastures and hay fields because it can withstand shading during the seedling stage better than most other legumes. However a mixed cool season grass-clover stand reduces the concern for bloat and can be maintained longer than a pure red clover stand.
So these are the pasture improvements we are researching. It is quite different than what I am used to but there are new and exciting challenges ahead. Like climate, season and year. This year we are watching in amazement as our pastures go wild with growth.

The first summer we hayed and flail mowed everything without a care for extending the grazing season or improving the nutrition and carrying capacity. We just wanted to cut the grass and keep the fields from becoming too weedy.

The second spring was very dry early on. The hayland was slow and did not produce that well, we continued to flail mow the back land until Ralph hurt his back. The grass was overwhelmed by weeds in some areas.
This spring, we are paying far more attention to the paddocks and grass. We have had great moisture and now hot weather. The grass was all bush hogged before the fence was built and Paddock 4 was mowed in early April to even it out. It is looking sensational, we will be haying it this week. [Weather permitting]

Paddocks 2 and 3, the ones we are reclaiming have been cut short about a month ago, they now are really ready to graze but we have an issue. The perfect storm….not enough stock, great moisture at the right time and heat. All the paddocks are growing incredibly fast.
I suppose I should not complain, we are not short of grass or hay at this point, we have a lot to earn yet about carrying capacity and the heat of summer still lays ahead. The cows are fat and sassy. They are belly deep or more in good grass.

 Mischief in Paddock 1, May 15th


Rocky in a soft weedy bed of greens, nibbling as he rests. The cows are smart enough to take rest when its hot and enjoy the bounty of the world around them. We are enjoying the learning and truly appreciate the blessing of the season. Grass in abundance is not always going to happen. Drought, early snow or even too much rain can effect our pastures. Getting our hay cut is a challenge of beating the rain and getting it dry and cured and in the barn. Life is a marvel and we see it every day. 

God Bless you all and go out and look at your grass, be it lawn or hayfield, sheep or goat paddock, its a bright green delight!